A CHANGE OF POWER
December 19, 1997
Engulfed in economic turmoil, the people of South Korea voted for political change. For the first time in its history, an opposition party has won the presidency. Following a background report, Elizabeth Farnsworth and guests discuss the implications of President-elect Kim Dae Jung's victory for South Korea and for the world.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: First tonight, South Koreas historic election. The countrys 25 million voters have opted for a dramatic change. Newly-elected President Kim Dae Jung arrived today at the steps of the National Assembly Building, receiving congratulations for his surprise victory in yesterdays elections. The 72-year-old Kim became South Koreas first opposition party candidate to capture the presidency. This was Kims fourth try. His victory comes amidst a dramatic economic downturn in South Korea. The currency has lost nearly 50 percent of its value in recent weeks, and each day brings new bank or brokerage house failures. In his speech to the National Assembly Kim Dae Jung vowed to end the scandals that have plagued current President Kim Jung Sams administration.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
An Online Forum on the economic situation in Asia.
December 12, 1997:
The Managing Director of the IMF talks about its role in Korea.
December 4, 1997:
A report on Korea's troubled economy.
November 26, 1997:
What did the APEC summit accomplish?
November 25, 1997:
Asia's leaders search for answers at the APEC meeting in Vancouver.
November 24, 1997:
The APEC shows a grim economic forecast for Asia.
October 28, 1997:
The instability of Asian stocks causes worldwide fluctuations.
October 23, 1997:
The Hong Kong stock market drops 10 percent.
February 11, 1997:
U.S. Ambassador James T. Laney discusses the labor strikes and rallies in South Korea.
November 25, 1996:
APEC agrees to eliminate tariffs on computers and telecommunications equipment.
November 21, 1996
A panel of experts discuss President Clinton's Asia-Pacific Tour.
December 28, 1995:
A report on the arrest of two former South Korean presidents and the bribery charges against the country's top business leaders.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Asia.
The Web site for the South Korean embassy in Washington, D.C.
International Monetary Fund
A historic change.
KIM DAE JUNG: (speaking through interpreter) I will run the government in a transparent manner. I will get rid of corruption and sever ties between business and government. I reaffirm that I will be a sympathetic leader and continue through dialogue.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The President-elect has also vowed to implement the reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund as a condition of its $57 billion bailout package negotiated last month.
KOREAN CITIZEN: (speaking through interpreter) If we want to pay back the IMF loan, our president, Kim Dae Jung, will have to work hard. Thats all I want.
SECOND KOREAN CITIZEN: (speaking through interpreter) I wish that we could all live well economically, and I wish that the leader will be wise.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The new leader has a long history as an opponent of military rule in South Korea and a campaigner for democracy. He has spent 16 years of his life in prison, under house arrest, or in exile, and he says he has survived three assassination attempts.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We get three views now. Han Park is professor of political science at the University of Georgia. Donald Gregg was a long-time CIA official and U.S. ambassador to South Korea from 1989 to 1993. Hes now chairman of the board of the Korea Society. Chung Min Lee, who is Korean, is an analyst at Rand, a research institute in Santa Monica, California. Thank you all for being with us. Donald Gregg, how important is this election?
The implications of President-elect Kim's victory.
DONALD GREGG: I think its very important. I think it validates the fact that Korea has really become a functioning democracy. The election process, itself, was very different from any of its--the preceding ones. The candidates subjected themselves to heavy scrutiny on television, rather than just waving at crowds at mass rallies, so the Korean people got a very close look at who they were voting for, and I was personally surprised and pleased that they broke away from the regional stereotypes and elected Kim Dae Jung.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Chung Min Lee, do you agree that this is a very important election for Korea?
CHUNG MIN LEE: Absolutely. I think Amb. Gregg said it. Basically, this is a critical milestone in Korean political history. For the first time in nearly 50 years the Korean people have elected an opposition figure as president. And that is an unprecedented development in Korean politics.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Han Park, what is so--what do you think is very important about this election?
HAN PARK: Oh, it is very important in the sense that the institution of election is in place, firmly in place. The process of election this time was very open, fair, and as the ambassador suggested, this was not really a mock kind of democracy. You have these candidates; they are expressing their views on television; and I think the journalists sophistication is demonstrated in this election, and the political culture in general in the mass belief systems is shown to be very sophisticated, and I am very, very hopeful about the future of democracy in South Korea.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And staying with you, Han Park, you know Kim Dae Jung. What should Americans know about him?
Who is Kim Dae Jung?
HAN PARK: He is a man of experience, as your program portrays him. More importantly, he is a man of intelligence. He is extremely intelligent. He has written several books of law. Some of the books were based on his speeches, and he is a perennial learner, if you will. He has been exposed to western culture in the United States; he spent several years; and he has achieved scholarity; in fact, achieved honorary degrees from various institutions, different countries, in China, in the United States; and also he is the life-long crusader for democracy. And I think this man epitomizes something that we seldom saw in South Korean political life.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Donald Gregg, you helped save his life. How?
DONALD GREGG: Well, I think Amb. Habib really deserves the credit for that. He was kidnaped in August of 1973--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Excuse me. It was Amb. Philip Habib.
DONALD GREGG: From Japan. And Phil Habib was our ambassador, a wonderful foreign service officer, and he called several of us in and said, I know how things work here; weve got 24 hours to react very strongly by saying we know who kidnaped him; and if we dont, Kim Dae Jung is dead. So through a collective effort we are able to find out who had done it, and Habib jumped in his car and went over to Blue House and protested very, very loudly, saying that the death of Kim Dae Jung would be a stain on Koreas escutcheon. Kim at that point was chained hand in foot in a boot in the Straits of Tsushima. A radio message came to the boat. He was released, rushed off, unchained, and taken back to Seoul.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mr. Ambassador, do you have anything to add about what Americans should know about him, beyond what weve already heard?
DONALD GREGG: Well, he is an extraordinary figure. I think really only Nelson Mandela in South Africa has been through more than Kim Dae Jung. He was again sentenced to death in 1980, and strong intervention involving Dick Holbrooke and Richard Allen of the outgoing Carter regime and incoming Reagan presidency, worked hard to save him at that point. He has learned to become really an international figure. Hes become interested in the problems of Cambodia and Burma. Hes probably the best known Korean internationally. And I think he will fit very well in the international scene and make a very fine president for Korea at an extremely important juncture.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Chung Min Lee, does he have the mandate to rule Korea in this very, very difficult time? He got 38 percent of the vote, and the ruling party split, which is really one of the reasons he won, right?
CHUNG MIN LEE: Youre absolutely right. The ruling grand national party go nearly 40 percent of the vote and the minority, ULD, which was in coalition with Mr. Kim Dae Jungs party, received about 40.5 percent of the vote. So, nearly 60 percent of the Korean voters did not vote for Mr. Kim Dae Jung. So with a limited mandate in mind it is crucial for Mr. Kim Dae Jung to assure the international community that he will not only stick with the IMF plan but also rule and govern Korea in a much more broader way than he has done before. He has to go beyond parochialism and basically go into the heart of the issue.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Has he taken steps, in your view, to do just that?
CHUNG MIN LEE: I think he has. Over the last four times he has run for the presidency he has come closer and closer to the middle. And circumstances have dictated that he has to do that to basically assuage and to basically placate the more conservative elements of Korean society. Having done so, he no longer is a politician. He is a statesman, and so he has to govern, and to govern well he has to get the support of the business community, the ruling power elite, as well as the media, and the middle class. So in that sense Kim Dae Jung has moved to the center, and I hope he sticks there over the next four or five years.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Han Park, the currency did drop, and the stock market dropped. Why?
HAN PARK: I think there is certain amount of fear on the part of the establishments in various areas because Korea has not been--experienced the regime turnover in this sense--an opposition party leader taking over power. So there is a certain amount of uncertainty on the part of established circles in South Korea. But I think it is temporary. Id like to add the fact that--about his mandate. Although he managed to get only about 40 percent of the vote, what is significant in this election is the opposition party candidates immediately conceded to him and vowed to provide all kinds of assistance and cooperation. And I think the economic situation is so desperate that all these factions will come to help the government so that his numerical, rather limited mandate is not going to trouble him in the years ahead.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Donald Gregg, do you agree with that?
DONALD GREGG: Yes, I do. I think its extremely important for him to get off to a solid start to reach out to other parties to appoint a bipartisan cabinet of talented enough men so that he can leave them in place. The previous administration had a revolving door approach to the jobs, and that just will not work. I think the things he said so far--Ive read his acceptance speech--I was very struck by it--and I think he is off to a strong start--but the international markets are watching very closely, and he has to be very careful about what he says so that he will be reassuring and not disquieting.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Chung Min Lee, can he have an agenda, considering the IMF restrictions on the economy, or the demands theyve made?
CHUNG MIN LEE: Well, the IMF basically has set down the basic parameters of Mr. Kim Dae Jungs agenda for the next two years, at least the economic front. And, so as a result, he will have to follow there closely in consultation with the Korean government, as well as the parliament. One key factor is that Mr. Kim Dae Jung does not control the Korean parliament. His party and his minority coalition partner, the ULD, controls some 90 to 96 for Mr. Kim Dae Jungs party, and about 40 for Mr. Kim, the other Kim. So the Grand National Party, the opposition party now, has a working majority. So he has to work carefully with the National Assembly all across the political spectrum so that he will be able to push his agenda, as well as the IMFs reform agenda, over the next two years in the Korean parliament.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Han Park, do you agree with that, that he will be able to push his own agenda too?
HAN PARK: I think so. I think so. The IMF bailout package, in fact, is a blessing for him in a very twisted interesting manner. That is, he would have his own agenda for economic and social reforms, especially the economic reforms. Without the IMF mandate or demands, some of these reforms will meet popular unrest and maybe dissension. So he can sort of use IMF demand as an excuse to even put through his original reform ideas. He, being an opposition leader, has never been in power. He would have many reform ideas. And I think IMF will help him to do what he eventually want to do.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Donald Gregg, do you think the IMF will help him? Do you agree?
DONALD GREGG: I think that its going to be difficult. I think theres going to be some dislocation, some firms are going to fail, unemployment is going to rise, but the strength of Mr. Kim is that his constituency has been on the labor side. And if he is able to say to some of these disenfranchised people, look, youre going through pain but it is temporary, we are becoming a truly globalized economy and the pain is short lived, I think you will have a lot more credibility with those people than with the other candidates had they been elected.
Relations with North Korea.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Donald Gregg, what about the effect of this election on relations with North Korea?
DONALD GREGG: Well, I think that Kim Jung Il is positioning himself to start dialogue with South Korea, and President-elect Kim in his speech spoke of resuming dialogue with the North and spoke very positively of the agreement that North and South Korea signed in December 1991. He spoke of that as really a road map to reconciliation. I think hes right. That was signed while I was ambassador to Korea. It was really quite an extraordinary document, and if they can get back to the spirit of that document, I think the way lies open to some reconciliation between North and South. And I think President Kim is really the ideal man to lead that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Chung Min Lee, do you think there is more likely to be reconciliation under him than other candidates?
CHUNG MIN LEE: I think basically thats very true. Mr. Kim Dae Jung has been known as a more progressive, if not liberal--others have said left of center views on policies towards North Korea. Be that as it way, after his election, everything is in North Koreas court. In other words, Chung Young has to respond to Mr. Kims election, and he has to basically say if you want a modus vivendi, if you want peace and stability on the peninsula, Chung Young has to talk to the new government in South Korea. As a result, I believe that North Korea will basically have to say if we want the peninsula, Kim Dae Jung is our partner for the next five years. So well have to see whether they will respond in kind.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Han Park, we have just a few seconds left.
HAN PARK: Right. I like to interject this, North Korean attitudes towards South Korea may have changed as a result of the economic bailout, as well as Kim Dae Jungs election, because in the past, North Korea has feared a possible absorption into South Korea, much in German case, but because of the economic difficulty revealed and Kim Young Sam being replaced by Kim Dae Jung, North Koreans may not have the same kind of fear of South Korea. So North Korean attitudes may help improve relations with the South.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you all three very much.